English 394 – YA Literature

Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

Whale Talk

Discussion Questions on Censorship



  • What are the issues in Whale Talk that may give an administrator or parent problems with using the book in the class?


  • Prepare a defense for using the book in a tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade English class?  Choose passages that represent themes and issues that you feel are important for high school students to discuss.


  • Prepare a defense for not using this book in a high school English class.  Keep in mind that Plato believed in censorship.  In The Republic he argued that banishing poets and dramatists from his perfect state was essential for the moral good of the young.  Writers often told lies about the gods, he maintained, but even when their stories were true, writers sometimes made the gods appear responsible for the evils and misfortunes of mortals. [The same could be applied to Crutcher’s treatment of authority figures in Whale Talk.]  Plato reasoned that fiction was potentially emotionally disturbing to the young.  Plato’s call for moral censorship to protect the young is echoed by many censors today. From “Censorship: Of Worrying and Wondering”


  • What is obscene in the book?


ü      Cruelty to others

ü      Racial slurs

ü      Abuse

ü      Misuse of authority

ü      Violence


  • Who is the best judge for choosing an appropriate text for a high school English class?  The teacher, the principal, a library board, the superintendent, the students, the parents, the critics?


  • Defend the following assumptions about censorship:


ü      Nothing is safe from censorship.

ü      The newer the work the more likely it is to come under attack.

ü      Censorship creates fear.

ü      Censorship is capricious and arbitrary.

ü      Censorship creates a “slippery slope” of banning any objectionable book from the library.

ü      Censorship only happens in rural communities.

ü      Individuals who advocate censorship are humorless, misguided and ignorant.

ü      There is a direct correlation between the book and the deed.

ü      School texts are an indicator of school values.


  • Court Cases on Censorship


ü      The Ginsberg v. New York (390 U.S. 692)

ü      Miller v California (413 U.S. 15)

ü      Jenkins v the State of Georgia (94 S. Ct. 2750)